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Heidegger, Martin, The Self-Assertion of the German University and The 
Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts , Review of Metaphysics, 38:3 
(1985:Mar.) p.467 









J. HE following is a translation of Martin Heidegger, Die Selbst- 
behauptung der deutschen Universitdt Rede, gehalten bei der 
feierlichen Ubemahme des Rektorats der Universitdt Freiburg i Br. 
am 27. 5, 1933 and Das Rektorat 1933/ 31^. Tatsachen und Gedanken. 
The former was first published by Korn Verlag, Breslau, in 1933. 
It was republished in 1983, together with Heidegger's later remarks 
on his rectorate, by Vittorio Klostermann in Frankfurt am Main. 

Martin Heidegger wanted his writings to speak for themselves. 
His son, Hermann Heidegger, and his publisher have reaffirmed 
this wish. Such reaffirmation seems particularly important in 
this case, which by its nature invites emotional responses and 
demands thoughtful discussion. 

Heidegger's thinking is a thinking "on the way." To under- 
stand this way we have to understand its stages. The texts that 
have here been translated help to illuminate a particularly crucial 
stage, which decisively shaped the subsequent development of 
Heidegger's thought. 

To help the reader, I have added a number of footnotes. Some 
of these call attention to places where my translation left me 
dissatisfied; others explain references to persons and events that 
without such explanation are likely to mean little to readers 
unfamiliar with the situation to which Heidegger's rectorate 
responded; still others locate works referred to in these texts. 

Gratitude is expressed to Hermann Heidegger and the pub- 
lisher, Vittorio Klostermann, who gave their permission to publish 
these translations and to preface them with a translation of Her- 
mann Heidegger's brief Vorwort to the German edition. — K. H. 

Yale University 

Review of Metaphysics 38 (March 1985): 467-502. Copyright © 1985 by the Review of 

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JP IFTY years after Martin Heidegger's Rectoral Address, "The 
Self -Assertion^ of the German University," it seems necessary to 
make this text once again available to the general public, a text 
about which many speak, some even write, without having read 
it. Six old misprints were corrected; two minor terminological 
corrections made by Martin Heidegger in his own copy inserted. 
Otherwise the text is an unchanged reprint of the edition of 1933. 

At the request of the NSDAP, the address was withdrawn 
from trade soon after Heidegger resigned in protest towards the 
end of February, 1934 — he had refused to dismiss deans he had 
appointed, but who were not National Socialists — and shortly 
after the appearance of the second edition. 

Much has been said about the content of the speech that is 
false and untrue. From 1945 on down to the most recent past, 
even university professors have cited in their publications what 
were supposed to be statements from the Rectoral Address, which 
are not found there. The words 'National Socialism' and 'National 
Socialist' do not occur in this address; the 'Fuhrer', the 'Chancellor 
of the Reich'y or 'Hitler' are not mentioned. 

At the time, the title of the address alone made people listen 
more attentively. No doubt, Martin Heidegger was caught up in 
the mood that seemed to promise a fresh start for the nation, as 
were also many of those who later became resistance fighters. He 
never denied his entanglements in the movement of the time. 
And to be sure, he made mistakes while rector. He did not deny 
his own inadequacies. But he was neither an uncritical fellow 
traveller, nor an active party member. From the very beginning 
he kept a clear distance from the party leadership. This showed 
itself, for example, in his prohibition of book burnings and of the 
posting of the "Jew Notice"^ in the university; in his appointment 

^ Selbstbehauptung means not just "self-assertion/' but a defense of 
one's proper place against attempts by others to usurp it. 

^ ''Jvdenplakat " In the spring of 1933 Joseph Goebbels's newly 
established Reichsministerium fur Volksavfkldrung und Propaganda di- 
rected the Deutsche Studentenbund, the National Socialist student orga- 

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of deans, not one of whom was a National Socialist; and in that 
as long as he remained rector, he was able to keep the Jewish 
professors von Hevesy^ and Thannhauser^ at the University. 

Shortly after the collapse of the National Socialist regime in 
1945, Martin Heidegger wrote a retrospective essay: "The Rectorate 
1933/34 — Facts and Thoughts." He gave the handwritten manu- 
script to the undersigned later, asking him to publish it at the 
proper time. The necessary new edition of the Rectoral Address, 
which appeared in Prance in 1982 in a bilingual edition,^ seems to 
be the right moment for the first publication of this essay, which 
covers some of the same ground as the Spiegel interview, given in 
September 1966.^ 

Hermann Heidegger 
Attentat, January 1983 

nization, to engage in a campaign "Against the un-German [i.e., Jewish] 
spirit." Starting on April 12 (Heidegger was elected rector of the 
University of Freiburg on April 21), twelve theses were to be posted in 
every university. At the same time students were asked to "cleanse" 
not only their own libraries, but those of their friends, and eyen public 
libraries that did not have primarily a research function, of zersetzendes 
Schrifttum, of literature that was thought to pose a threat to the integrity 
and purity of the German spirit. The burning of these books on May 10 
represented the culmination of this campaign. 

^Georg von Hevesy, winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 
1943, fled to Stockholm in 1943, to return to Freiburg after the war. 

^ Siegfried Thannhauser, professor of internal medicine, was forced 
to retire from the university in 1934 and left to assume a visiting 
professorship at Tufts. 

^ A bilingual edition, the translation by Gerard Granel, appeared in 
the Editions Trans-EurojhRepress, 1982. This translation had been 
preceded by an earlier version, also by Granel, published under the same 
title, ''L'Auto-affirmation de Vuniversite allemande/' in Phi, supplement 
to Annates de VUniversite de Toulotise Le Mirail, 1976. A translation by 
Francois Fedier of both the retrospective remarks of 1945 and the 
Rectoral Address appeared in Le Debat, no. 27, November 1983, under 
the titles "Le rectorat 1933-34'' and "L'Universite allemande envers et 
contre tout elle-meme." 

^ "Nur ein Gott kann uns retten," Der Spiegel, 23 (1976). "Only a 
God Can Save Us," translated by Maria P. Alter and John D. Caputo, 
Philosophy Today (Winter 1976): 267-284. 

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HE assumption of the rectorate is the commitment to the 
spiHtvxd leadership of this institution of higher learning.^ The 
following^ of teachers and students awakens and grows strong 
only from a true and joint rootedness in the essence of the German 
university. This essence, however, gains clarity, rank, and power 
only when first of all and at all times the leaders are themselves 
led — led by that unyielding spiritual mission that forces the fate 
of the German people to bear the stamp of its history. 

Do we know about this spiritual mission? Whether we do or 
not, the question must be faced: are we, the body of teachers and 
students of this "high" school, truly and jointly rooted in the 
essence of the German university? Does this essence have genuine 
strength to stamp our being (Ddsein)'! No doubt, only if we most 
deeply will this essence. But who would doubt this? "Self- 
governance" is commonly seen as the dominant characteristic of 
the university's essence; it is to be preserved. However — have we 
considered fully what this claim to self-governance demands 
of us? 

Surely, self -governance means: to set our own task, to deter- 
mine ourselves the way and manner in which it is to be realized, 
so that thus we shall be what we ought to be. But do we know 
who we ourselves are, this body of teachers and students of the 
highest school of the German people? Can we even know this 
without the most constant and unsparing self-examination? 

Neither an awareness of the present conditions of the univer- 
sity, nor an acquaintance with its earlier history are enough to 
guarantee a sufficient knowledge of its essence — unless we first 
delimit what this essence is to be, clearly and unsparingly; and 

^ Like the more usual Hochschule, hohe Schule means first of all 
"institution of higher learning." Hohe Schule, however, carries a special 
aura. To preserve at least a trace of this aura, I have translated the 
term below as " 'high' school." 

^ 'Followers* would be the more natural translation of Gefolgschaft, 
but the term suggests followers gathered together in one body. The 
word belongs with Lehrerschaft and Studentenschafty which I have trans- 
lated as *body of teachers' and 'student body', respectively. 

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having thus delimited it, loill it, and in such willing, assert 

Self -governance must be grounded in self-examination. Self- 
examination, however, presupposes that the German university 
possesses the strength to self-assertioTL Will we enact it? 
And how? 

The self-assertion of the German university is the primordial, 
shared will to its essence. We understand the German university 
as the "high" school that, grounded in science, by means of science 
educates and disciplines the leaders and guardians of the fate of 
the German people. The will to the essence of the German 
university is the will to science as will to the historical mission of 
the German people as a people that knows itself in its state. 
Together, science and German fate must come to power in this 
will to essence. And they will do so if, and only if, we — this body 
of teachers and students — on the one hand expose science to its 
innermost necessity and, on the other hand, are equal to the 
German fate in its most extreme distress. 

To be sure, as long as — talking about "the new concept of 
science" — we contest the self-sufficiency and lack of presuppositions 
of an all too up-to-date science, we will not experience the essence 
of science in its innermost necessity. Such doing is merely 
negative; looking back hardly beyond the last decades, it has 
turned by now into a mere semblance of a true struggle for the 
essence of science. 

If we want to grasp the essence of science, we must first face 
up to this decisive question: should there still he science for us in 
the future, or should we let it drift toward a quick end? That 
there should be science at all, is never unconditionally necessary. 
But if there is to be science, and if it is to be for us and through 
us, under what conditions can it then truly exist? 

Only if we again place ourselves under the power of the 
beginning of our spiritual-historical being (Dasein). This beginning 
is the setting out^ of Greek philosophy. Here, for the first time, 
western man raises himself up from a popular base and, by virtue 
of his language, stands up to the totality of what is,^ which he 

^ Avfbruch suggests that this "setting out" is also a "breaking open." 

^ "Darin [in this setting out] steht der abendlandische Mensch aus 

seinem Volkstum kraft seiner Sprache erstmals auf gegen das Seiende 

im Ganzen, . . ." Aufstehen suggests here a standing up that raises 

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questions and conceives as the being that it is. All science is 
philosophy, whether it knows and wills it— or not. All science 
remains bound to that beginning of philosophy. From it it draws 
the strength of its essence, supposing that it still remains equal 
to this beginning. 

Here we want to regain for our being (Ddsein) two distinguish- 
ing properties of the original Greek essence of science. 

Among the Greeks an old story went around that Prometheus 
had been the first philosopher. Aeschylus has this Prometheus 
utter a saying that expresses the essence of knowing. 

Tixprj davayKTjs aaOevearepa naKpc^f (Prom. 514 ed. Wil). 

**Knowing, however, is far weaker than necessity.'' This is to 
say: all knowing about things has always already been delivered 
up to overpowering fate and fails before it. 

Just because of this, knowing must develop its highest defiance; 
called forth by such defiance, all the power of the hiddenness of 
what is must first arise for knowing really to fail. Just in this 
way, what is opens itself in its unfathomable inalterability and 
lends knowing its truth. Encountering this Greek saying about 
the creative impotence of knowing, one likes to find here all too 
readily the prototype of a knowing based purely on itself, while in 
fact such knowing has forgotten its own essence; this knowing is 
interpreted for us as the "theoretical" attitude — but what do the 
Greeks mean by Beo^plal One says: pure contemplation, which 
remains bound only to the thing in question and to all it is and 
demands. This contemplative behavior — and here one appeals to 
the Greeks — is said to be pursued for its own sake. But this 
appeal is mistaken. For one thing, "theory" is not pursued for its 
own sake, but only in the passion to remain close to and hard 
pressed by what is as such. But, for another, the Greeks struggled 
precisely to conceive and to enact this contemplative questioning 
as one, indeed as the highest mode of evepyeia, of man's "being- 
at-work." They were not concerned to assimilate practice to 

man beyond his rootedness in the people, but also a "revolt" {Auf stand) 
against all entities. "People" does not preserve the aura carried by such 
words as VbZfc, Volkstum, and volkUchy which figure so prominently in the 
address. Nor can we capture it by casting a quick glance at the volkische 
rhetoric of National Socialism. Only careful consideration of the history 
of their use prevents misunderstanding. 

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theory; quite the reverse: theory was to be understood as itself 
the highest realization of genuine practice. For the Greeks science 
is not a "cultural good," but the innermost determining center of 
all that binds human being to people and state.^ Science, for 
them, is also not a mere means of bringing the unconscious to 
consciousness, but the power that hones and embraces being-there 
(Dasein) in its entirety. 

Science is the questioning holding of one's ground in the midst 
of the ever self -concealing totality of what is. This active perse- 
verance knows, as it perseveres, about its impotence before fate. 

This is the original essence of science. But doesn't this 
beginning by now lie two and a half millennia behind us? Hasn't 
human progress changed science as well? Certainly! The Chris- 
tian-theological interpretation of the world that followed, as well 
as the later mathematical-technological thinking of the modern 
age, have separated science both in time and in its concerns from 
its beginning. But this does not mean that the beginning has 
been overcome, let alone brought to nought. For if indeed this 
primordial Greek science is something great, then the beginning 
of this great thing remains what is greatest about it. The essence 
of science could not even be emptied out and used up, as is 
happening today despite all its results and "international organi- 
zations," if the greatness of the beginning did not still endure. 
The beginning still is. It does not lie behind its, as something that 
was long ago, but stands before us. As what is greatest, the 
beginning has passed in advance beyond all that is to come and 
thus also beyond us. The beginning has invaded our future. There 
it awaits us, a distant command bidding us catch up with its 

Only if we resolutely submit to this distant command to 
recapture the greatness of the beginning, will science become the 
innermost necessity of our being (Dasein). Otherwise it remains 

^ ". . . des ganzen volklich-staatliehen Daseins." I considered re- 
taining Dasein as a by now well established, untranslatable technical 
term. But the reader should not assume that in the Rectoral Address 
Dasein means just what it does in Being and Time. Heidegger, e.g., 
speaks of the Dasein eines Volkes. Volklich-staatlichy too, poses a problem: 
thus the translation cannot capture the intimate union of Volk and Stoat 
suggested by the hyphenated adjective. 

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an accident we fall into or the settled comfort of a safe occupation, 
serving to further a mere progress of information. 

But if we submit to the distant command of the beginning, 
science must become the fundamental happening of our spiritual 
being as part of a people.^ 

And if, indeed, our ownmost being (Ddsein) itself stands 
before a great transformation, if what that passionate seeker of 
God and the last German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said 
is true: "God is dead"— and if we have to face up to the forsakenness 
of modern man in the midst of what is, what then is the situation 
of science? 

What was in the beginning the awed perseverance of the 
Greeks in the face of what is, transforms itself then into the 
completely unguarded exposure to the hidden and uncertain, i.e., 
the questionable. Questioning is then no longer a preliminary 
step, to give way to the answer and thus to knowledge, but 
questioning becomes itself the highest form of knowing. Ques- 
tioning then unfolds its ownmost strength to unlock in all things 
what is essential. Questioning then forces our vision into the 
most simple focus on the inescapable. 

Such questioning shatters the division of the sciences into 
rigidly separated specialties, carries them back from their endless 
and aimless dispersal into isolated fields and corners, and exposes 
science once again to the fertility and the blessing bestowed by 
all the world-shaping powers of human-historical being (Ddsein), 
such as: nature, history, language; people, custom, state; poetry, 
thought, faith; disease, madness, death; law, economy, technology. 

If we will the essence of science understood as the qtoestioning, 
unguarded holding of one's ground in the midst of the uncertainty 
of the totality of what-is, this will to essence will create for our 
people its world, a world of the innermost and most extreme 
danger, i.e., its truly spiritual world. For "spirit" is neither empty 
cleverness, nor the noncommittal play of wit, nor the endless drift 
of rational distinctions, and especially not world reason; spirit is 
primordially attuned, knowing resoluteness toward the essence of 
Being. And the spiritual world of a people is not the superstructure 
of a culture, no more than it is an armory stuffed with useful 

^ ". . . unseres geistig-volklichen Daseins.'* This suggests that Geist 
and Volk codetermine our Dasein, 

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facts and values; it is the power that most deeply preserves the 
people's strengths, which are tied to earth and blood;'' and as such 
it is the power that most deeply moves and most profoundly 
shakes its being (Dasein). Only a spiritual world gives the people 
the assurance of greatness. For it necessitates that the constant 
decision between the will to greatness and a letting things happen 
that means decline, will be the law presiding over the march that 
our people has begun into its future history. 

If we will this essence of science, the body of teachers of this 
university must really step forward into the most dangerous post, 
threatened by constant uncertainty about the world. If it holds 
this ground, that is to say, if from such steadfastness — in essential 
nearness to the hard-pressing insistence of all things— arises a 
common questioning and a communally tuned saying, then it will 
gain the strength to lead. For what is decisive if one is to lead is 
not just that one walk ahead of others, but that one have the 
strength to be able to walk alone, not out of obstinacy and a 
craving for power, but empowered by the deepest vocation and 
broadest obligation. Such strength binds to what is essential, 
selects the best, and awakens the genuine following (Gefolgschaft) 
of those who are of a new mind. But there is no need to first 
awaken this following. Germany's student body is on the march. 
And whom it seeks are those leaders through whom it wills to so 
elevate its own vocation that it becomes a grounded, knowing 
truth, and to place it into the clarity of interpretive and effective 
word and work. 

Out of the resoluteness of the German student body to be 
equal to the German fate in its most extreme distress, comes a 
will to the essence of the university. This will is a true will in 
that the German student body, through the new Student Law,^ 
places itself under the law of its own essence and in this way for 
the first time determines that essence. To give the law to oneself 
is the highest freedom. The much celebrated "academic freedom" 
is being banished from the German university; for this freedom 

'''"... sondern sie ist die Macht der tiefsten Bewahrung der erd- 
und bluthaften Krafte als Macht der innersten Erregung und weitesten 
Erschiitterung seines Daseins." 

® Proclaimed on May 1, 1933, the Tieite Studentenrecht sought to 
organize students according to the Fuhrerprinzip in an effort to integrate 
the universities into the National Socialist state. 

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was not genuine, since it was only negative. It meant primarily 
freedom from concern, arbitrariness of intentions and inclinations, 
lack of restraint in what was done and left undone. The concept 
of the freedom of the German student is now brought back to its 
truth. Henceforth the bond and service of the German student 
will unfold from this truth. 

The first bond binds into the community of the people. It 
obligates to help carry the burden and to participate actively in 
the troubles, endeavors, and skills of all its estates (Stdnde) and 
members. From now on this bond will be fixed and rooted in the 
being (Dasein) of the German student by means of the Labor 
Service (Arbeitsdienst).^ 

The second bond binds to the honor and destiny of the nation 
in the midst of other peoples. It demands the readiness, secured 
by knowledge and skill, and tightened by discipline, to give all. 
In the future this bond will encompass and penetrate the entire 
being (Dasein) of the student as Armed Service (Wehrdienst). 

The third bond of the student body binds it to the spiritual 
mission of the German people. This people shapes its fate by 
placing its history into the openness of the overwhelming power 
of all the world-shaping powers of human being (Dasein) and by 
ever renewing the battle for its spiritual world. Thus exposed to 
the most extreme questionableness of its own being (Dasein), this 
people wills to be a spiritual people. It demands of itself and for 
itself that its leaders and guardians possess the strictest clarity 
of the highest, widest, and richest knowledge. Still youthful 
students, who at an early age have dared to act as men and who 
extend their willing to the future destiny of the nation, force 

^ Following the First World War, the Arbeitsdienst emerged, in good 
part as a response to the unemployment problem. On July 23, 1931 the 
government of the conservative Heinrich Bruning made this voluntary 
Arbeitsdienst part of its attempt to deal with unemployment. The 
National Socialist state was quick to recognize, not only its economic 
importance, but the pedagogical possibilities of such service, which was 
to be eine Schule der VolksgeTneinsckaft, a school that would join members 
of different classes in genuine community. The law of June 26, 1935, 
made six months of such service mandatory for every young German. 

But if Heidegger's discussion of the three Services refers the reader 
to the political situation of the time, it also refers him to Plato's 
Republic. Such ambiguities make the Rectoral Address particularly 
difficult to translate. 

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themselves, from the very ground of their being, to serve this 
knowledge. They will no longer permit Knowledge Service {Wis- 
sensdienst) to be the dull and quick training for a "distinguished'' 
profession. Because the statesman and the teacher, the doctor 
and the judge, the minister and the architect, lead the being 
(Ddsein) of people and state, because they watch over it and keep 
it honed in its fundamental relations to the world-shaping powers 
of human being, these professions and the training for them have 
been entrusted to the Knowledge Service. Knowledge does not 
serve the professions, quite the reverse: the professions effect and 
administer that highest and essential knowledge of the people 
concerning its entire being (Dasein). But for us this knowledge is 
not the settled taking note of essences and values in themselves; 
it is the most severe endangerment of human being (Dasein) in 
the midst of the overwhelming power of what is. The very 
questionableness of Being, indeed, compels the people to work and 
fight and forces it into its state {Staat)y to which the professions 

The three bonds — by the people, to the destiny of the state, in 
a spiritual mission — are eqvMly primordial to the German essence. 
The three services that stem from it — Labor Service, Armed 
Service, and Knowledge Service — are equally necessary and of 
equal rank. 

Only engaged knowledge about the people and knowledge 
about the destiny of the state that keeps itself in readiness, only 
these create, at one with knowledge about the spiritual mission, 
the primordial and full essence of science, whose realization is our 
task — supposing that we submit to the distant command of the 
beginning of our spiritual-historical being (Dasein). 

This science is meant when the essence of the German uni- 
versity is delimited as the "high" school that, grounded in science, 
by means of science educates and disciplines the leaders and 
guardians of the fate of the German people. 

This primordial concept of science obligates us not only to 
"objectivity" (''Sachlichkeit''), but, first of all, to make our ques- 
tioning in the midst of the historical-spiritual world of the people 
simple and essential. Indeed — only in such questioning can objec- 
tivity truly ground itself, i.e., discover its nature and limit. 

Science, in this sense, must become the power that shapes the 
body of the German university. This implies a twofold task: For 

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one, the body of teachers and the student body, each in its own 
way, must be seized and remain seized by the concept of science. 
At the same time, however, this concept of science must intervene 
in and transform the basic patterns in which teachers and students 
join to act as members of a scientific community: the faculties and 

The faculty is a faculty only if, rooted in the essence of its 
science, it develops into a faculty for spiritual legislation, able to 
shape those powers of human being (Dasein) that press it hard 
into the one spiritual world of the people. 

The speciality is a speciality only if, from the very outset, it 
places itself in the realm of this spiritual legislation and thus 
tears down departmental barriers and overcomes what lets profes- 
sional training lose itself in what is stale and counterfeit. 

At the moment when faculties and specialties begin to raise 
the essential and simple questions of their science, both teachers 
and students are already encompassed by the same final necessities 
and pressing concerns, inseparable from the being (Dasein) of 
people and state. 

The unfolding of the primordial essence of science, however, 
demands such a degree of rigor, responsibility, and superior 
patience that, in comparison, matters like conscientious adherence 
to or eager tinkering with established procedures hardly carry 
any weight. 

But if the Greeks took three centuries just to put the question 
of what knowledge is upon the right basis and on a secure path, 
we have no right to presume that the elucidation and unfolding of 
the essence of the German university could take place in the 
current or in the coming semester. 

One thing, however, we do know from the indicated essence of 
science; we do know that the German university will only take 
shape and come to power when the three services — Labor Service, 
Armed Service, and Knowledge Service — primordially coalesce and 
become one formative force. That is to say: 

The teaching body's will to essence must awaken and 
strengthen and thus gain the simplicity and breadth necessary to 

^^ Fachschaften. I have translated both Fachschaft and Fach as 
specialty. Fach also means compartment, suggesting the compartmen- 
talization that has attended specialization in the sciences. 

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knowledge about the essence of science. The student body's will 
to essence must force itself to rise to the highest clarity and 
discipline of knowing and, demanding and determining, integrate 
its engaged understanding of the people and its state, which is 
itself a kind of science, into the essence of science.^^ The two 
wills must confront one another, ready for battle. All faculties of 
will and thought, all strengths of the heart and all skills of the 
body, must be unfolded through battle, heightened in battle, and 
preserved as battle. 

We choose the knowing battle of those who question and 
profess with Carl von Clausewitz:^^ "I take leave of the frivolous 
hope of salvation by the hand of accident.'' 

This battle community of teachers and students, however, will 
only transform the German university into a place of spiritual 
legislation and establish in it the center of the most disciplined 
and focused preparation for the highest service to the people in 
its state, when teachers and students arrange their being {Dasein) 
more simply, more unsparingly, and more frugally than all their 
fellow Germans. All leading must grant the body of followers its 
own strength. All following, however, bears resistance within 
itself. This essential opposition of leading and following must not 
be obscured, let alone eliminated. 

Battle alone keeps this opposition open and implants in the 
entire body of teachers and students that basic mood which lets 
self-limiting self-assertion empower resolute self-examination to 
genuine self -governance. 

Do we, or do we not, will the essence of the German university? 
It is up to us whether, and to what extent, we concern ourselves 
with self-examination and self-assertion not just casually, but 
penetrating to their very foundations, or whether— with the best 
of intentions — we only change old arrangements and add new 
ones. No one will keep us from doing this. 

But no one will even ask us whether we do or do not will, 
when the spiritual strength of the West fails and the joints of the 

^^ I have translated Mitvnssenschaft as "engaged understanding . . . 
which is itself a kind of science." In its context, Mitvnssenschaft points 
both to Wissenschaft (science) and to mitvnssen, a knowing that actively 
participates in the knowledge of others. 

^^Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), for many years head of the 
Prussian War College and author of the influential Vom Krieg (On War). 

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world no longer hold, when this moribund semblance of a culture 
caves in and drags all that remains strong into confusion and lets 
it suffocate in madness. 

Whether this will happen or not depends alone on whether or 
not we, as a historical-spiritual people, still and once again will 
ourselves. Every individual participates in this decision, even he, 
and indeed especially he, who evades it. 

But we do will that our people fulfill its historical mission. 

We do will ourselves. For the young and the youngest 
strength of the people, which already reaches beyond us, ha^ by 
now decided the matter. 

But we fully understand the splendor and the greatness of 
this setting out only when we carry within ourselves that profound 
and far-reaching thoughtfulness that gave ancient Greek wisdom 
the word: 

ra . . . jxeyaXa iravra €Tn(T(t)a\ri . . . 

"All that is great stands in the storm . . /' 

(Plato, Republic, 497 d, 9).^^ 

^^ B. Jowett translates the passage from which this saying is taken 
as follows: 

"What is there remaining?" 

"The question of how the study of philosophy may be so ordered as 
not to be the ruin of the State: All great attempts are attended with 
risk; *hard is the good,' as men say." 

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In April 1933 I was elected rector by the unanimous vote of the 
plenum of the university. My predecessor in office, von MoUendorf,^ 
had been forced to resign after only a brief tenure. Von Mollendorf 
himself, with whom on a number of different occasions I discussed 
the succession in detail, wanted me to assume the rectorate. 
Similarly his predecessor, Sauer,^ tried to persuade me to assume 
the office in the interest of the university. I hesitated as late as 
the day of the election and wanted to withdraw my candidacy. I 
had no contact with the relevant government and party agencies, 
was myself neither a member of the party, nor had I been active 
politically in any way. Thus it was uncertain whether those at 
the center of political power would listen to me and to what 
seemed to me necessity and task. But just as uncertain was the 
extent to which the university would actively join me to discover 
and to shape its own essence in a more primordial manner. 
Already in my Inaugural Address,^ delivered in the summer of 
1929, I had presented this task to the public. 

The introductory sentences of the Inaugural Address, **What 
is Metaphysics," state the following: "TTe question, here and now, 
for ourselves. Our being (Dasein) — as members of a community 
of scientists, teachers, and students — is determined by science. 
What essential thing is happening to us from the very bottom of 
our being {Dasein), when science has become our passiont The 
fields of science lie far apart. They approach their subject matter 

^ Wilhelm von Mollendorf, a distinguished anatomist, was to have 
served as rector for the academic year 1933/34, but his political convictions 
(von Mollendorf was a Social Democrat) made him unacceptable to the 
new regime and he was forced out of office almost immediately. 

^ Canon Joseph Sauer, a church historian, known especially for his 
work in Christian archeology and the history of Christian art, served as 
rector for the academic year 1932/33. 

^ Was ist Metaphysik (Bonn: Cohen, 1929), now available in Wegmar- 
ken, vol. 9 of the Gesamtatisgabe (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1976); "What 
is Metaphysics," translated by R. F. C. Hull and Allan Crick in Existence 
and Being, ed. Werner Brock (Chicago: Regnery, 1967) and again by 
David Krell in Basic Writings (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). 

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in fundamentally different ways. Today this fragmented multi- 
plicity of disciplines is held together only by the technical orga- 
nization of universities and faculties, and retains some importance 
only because of the practical aims pursued by the different 
specialties. But the roots of the sciences in their essential ground 
have withered." By the year 1933 this address had already been 
translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. 

Everyone was in a position to know what I thought about the 
German university and what I considered its most pressing concern. 
It was to renew itself by returning to its essential ground, which 
is also the essential ground of the sciences; that is to say, by 
returning to the essence of truth itself instead of persisting in a 
technical organization-institutional pseudo-unity, it was to recover 
the primordial living unity that joins those who question and 
those who know. 

In 1930 I spoke on the essence of truth. I repeated the lecture 
in a number of different German towns until 1932 and it was 
known through copies that were circulating. The lecture was 
published only in 1943.^ At the time of the lecture I also gave a 
two hour lecture course on the Greek concept of truth, approaching 
the topic with an interpretation of the Platonic allegory of the 
cave. This lecture course was repeated during my rectorate in 
the winter semester 1933/34 and supplemented with a well attended 
seminar on "People and Science." The interpretation of the 
allegory of the cave appeared in print in 1942 in the Jahrhuchfilr 
die geistige Uberlieferung II under the title '^Platons Lehre von der 
Wahrheif ("Plato's Doctrine of Truth").^ The party officially 
prohibited mention and review of this essay; the making of 
reprints and their distribution by the book trade were similarly 

What let me hesitate until the very last day to assume the 
rectorate was the knowledge that with what I intended I would 
necessarily run into a twofold conflict with both the "new" and 

* Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1943), now in 
Wegmarken; "On the Essence of Truth," translated by R. F. C. Hull and 
Allan Crick in Existence and Being, and by J. Glenn Gray in Basic 

^Now available in WegmarkerL Translated by John Barlow in 
Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, vol. 3, eds. William Barrett and 
Henry D. Aiken (New York: Harper and Row, 1962). 

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the "old." The "new" meanwhile had appeared in the form of 
"political science,"^ the very idea of which rests on a falsification 
of the essence of truth. The "old" was the effort to remain 
responsible to one's "specialty," to help advance it and to utilize 
such advance in instruction, to reject all reflection on the founda- 
tions of science as abstract-philosophical speculation or at most 
to admit it as an unnecessary decoration; but not to engage in 
reflection and, thtts engaged, to think and to belong to the university. 

There was thus danger that both the "new" and the "old," 
opposed as they were to one another, would equally fight my 
attempt and make it impossible. What I did not yet see and could 
not expect, however, when I assumed the rectorate, is what 
happened in the course of the first semester: the old and the new 
finally joined, at one in their desire to paralyze my efforts and to 
finally get rid of me. 

Despite this twofold threat to my plan of founding the essence 
of the university in a primordial manner, I finally resolved to 
assume the rectorate, moved by the urging of many colleagues at 
the university, especially of the deposed rector von Mollendorf and 
of his predecessor, and then vice-rector, Sauer. What moved me 
especially was the possibility, pointed out by canon Sauer, that, 
should I refuse, outsiders would impose a rector. 

All things considered, a threefold consideration determined 
me to assume the rectorate: 

(1) I saw in the movement that had gained power the possi- 
bility of an inner recollection and renewal of the people and a 
path that would allow it to discover its historical vocation in the 
Western world. I believed that, renewing itself, the university 
might also be called to contribute to this inner self -collection of 
the people, providing it with a measure. 

^ 'Tolitische WissenschafL " "Politicar' here means "politicized/* 
Truth was to be given a basis in the Volk. This led to attempts to create 
a "German mathematics,'' a "German physics," etc. Two Nobel Prize 
winning physicists were associated with such attempts, Philipp Lenard 
(1862-1947) and Johannes Stark (1874-1957). The theory of relativity 
and quantum theory were attacked as un-German. See Philipp Lenard, 
Deutsche Physik, 4 vols. (Munchen: Lehmann, 1936-37) and Johannes 
Stark, NationalsoziaHsmtis und Wissenschaft (Munchen: Eher, 1934). 
Also Ernst Briiche, "'Deutsche Physik' und die deutschen Physiker,'' 
Physikalische BldUer, 2 (1947): 232-236. 

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(2) For this reason I saw in the rectorate an opportunity to 
lead all capable forces— regardless of party membership and party 
doctrine— back to this process of reflection and renewal and to 
strengthen and to secure the influence of these forces. 

(3) In this manner I hoped to counter the advance of unsuited 
persons and the threatening hegemony of party apparatus and 
party doctrine. 

The fact is that even then much that was inferior and lacking 
in ability, much that was self -centered and envious, carried on its 
destructive business. But in view of the general situation of our 
people, I thought this just one more reason to bring into play the 
capable forces and essential goals. Certainly, it was more com- 
fortable to stay on the sidelines, to turn up one's nose at these 
"impossible people," and to sing the praises of what had been, 
without a glance at the historical situation of the Western world. 
A pointer may suggest how I saw the historical situation even 
then. In the year 1930 Ernst Jiinger's article on "Total Mobilisa- 
tion" {''Die totals Mcbilmachung'') had appeared; in this article 
the basic features of his book The Worker (Der Arheiter), which 
appeared in 1932, announced themselves.^ Together with my 
assistant Brock,^ I discussed these writings in a small circle and 
tried to show how they express a fundamental understanding of 
Nietzsche's metaphysics, in so far as the history and present of 
the Western world are seen and foreseen in the horizon of this 
metaphysics. Thinking from these writings and, still more essen- 
tially, from their foundations, we thought what was coming, that 
is to say, we attempted to counter it, as we confronted it. At the 
time many others also read these writings; but together with 
many other interesting things that one also read, one laid them 
aside without comprehending their far-reaching import. Later, in 

'^ The paths of Ernst Jiinger, the German essayist and writer, and 
those of Martin Heidegger continued to touch. See e.g., Zur Seinsfrage, 
now available in Wegmarken, and translated as "The Question of Being" 
by William Kluback and Jean T. Wilde (Boston: Twayne, 1958), a 
response to Jiinger's Uber die Linie (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1958). 
Both essays were originally written to honor the other on his sixtieth 

^Werner Brock was Heidegger's assistant from 1931 to 1933. In 
1934 he went to Cambridge on a research fellowship. 

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the winter 1939/40, I discussed part of Junger's book The Worker 
once more with a circle of colleagues; I learned how even then 
these thoughts still seemed strange and put people off, until "the 
facts'' bore them out. What Ernst Jiinger thinks with the thought 
of the rule and shape of the worker and sees in the light of this 
thought, is the universal rule of the will to power within history, 
now understood to embrace the planet. Today everything stands 
in this historical reality, no matter whether it is called communism, 
or fascism, or world democracy. 

From the vantage point of this reality of the will to power I 
saw even then what is. This reality of the will to power can be 
expressed, with Nietzsche, in the proposition: "God is dead." 
Essential considerations led me to cite this proposition in my 
Rectoral Address. The proposition has nothing to do with the 
assertion of an ordinary atheism. It means: The supersensible 
world, more especially the world of the Christian God, has lost its 
effective force in history. (See my lecture, 1943, on Nietzsche's 
word "God is Dead.")^ Had things been different, would the First 
World War have been possible? And even more, had things been 
different, would the Second World War have become possible? 

Was there not enough reason and essential distress to think 
in primordial reflection towards a surpassing of the metaphysics 
of the will to power and that is to say, to begin a confrontation 
(Aioseinandersetzung) with Western thought by returning to its 
beginning? Was there not enough reason and essential distress, 
for the sake of such reflection on the spirit of the Western world, 
to awaken and to lead into battle that place which was considered 
the seat of the cultivation of knowledge and insight — the German 

To be sure, confronted with the course of history, an argument 
that begins with the words, "What would have happened, if ... , 
and if not . . . ," is always risky. Yet the question may yet be 
asked: What would have happened and what would have been 
prevented, had, around 1933, all capable forces aroused themselves 

^ In Holzwege, now Gesamtxiusgobe, vol. 5 (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 
1977). "The Word of Nietzsche: *God is Dead'," translated by William 
Lovitt in The Qiiestion Concerning Technology: Heidegger^s Critique of the 
Modem Age (New York: Harper and Row, 1977). 

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and joined in secret in order to gradually purify and moderate the 
"movement'' that had come to power? 

To be sure — when human beings reckon up and charge guilt 
to other human beings, such reckoning is always a presumption. 
But if indeed one wants to look for those who are guilty and judge 
them by their guilt: is there not also a guilt incurred by failing to 
do what is essential? Those who even then were so endowed with 
the gift of prophecy that they foresaw all that came, as it came— 
I was not so wise— why did they wait almost ten years before 
opposing the threatening disaster? Why did not those who in 
1933 thought they possessed such wisdom, why did not they, 
especially, then arouse themselves to turn everything, from the 
very bottom, towards the good? 

To be sure — it would have been difficult to gather all capable 
forces; difficult, too, to gradually gain influence on the movement 
in its entirety and its position of power — but not more difficult 
than the burden that we were later forced to bear. 

With the assumption of the rectorate I had made the attempt 
to save, purify, and to strengthen what was positive. 

It was never my intention to realize only party doctrines and 
to act in accord with the "idea" of a "political science." But I was 
equally unwilling to defend only what had been established and, 
by merely mediating and smoothing disagreements, to level every- 
thing and to keep it in mediocrity. The things at stake mattered 
too much, reaching far beyond all that concerned the university. 
That was my clear conviction. 

But it was also clear to me that first of all the positive 
possibilities that I then saw in the movement had to be underscored 
and affirmed in order to prepare for a gathering of all capable 
forces in a manner that would be grounded not only in the facts, 
but in what mattered. Immediate and mere opposition would 
neither have been in keeping with what was then my conviction 
(which was never blind faith in the party), nor would it have been 

To characterize my basic attitude while I was rector, let the 
following be noted: 

(1) Never did any party agency call on me for any kind of 
political consultation; nor did I ever seek such participation. 

(2) In other ways, too, I never maintained any personal or 
political relations with party functionaries. 

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To be sure, in this case, as is the case with every spoken word, 
everything depends on the readiness to enter into what is essential 
and to first get it into view. The heart of the Rectoral Address, 
apparent even by the space given to it, is the exposition of the 
essence of knowing and science; the university is to be grounded 
on that essence; and on that ground it is to assert itself as German 
university. Knowledge Service is named in third place, after 
Labor Service and Armed Service, not because it is subordinated 
to the former, but because knowing is what is authentic and 
highest, that unto which the essence of the university and therefore 
reflection gathers itself. As far as Labor Service, named in second 
place, is concerned, it may be permitted to remind the reader that 
long before 1933 this "service" grew out of the distress of the time 
and the will of the young, which gave it its shape. "Armed 
Service," however, I mentioned neither in a militaristic, nor in an 
aggressive sense, but understood it as defense in self-defense.^^ 

The heart of the address serves the interpretation of the 
essence of knowing, science, and profession that is based on 
training in science. As far as the content is concerned, four points 
should be singled out: 

(1) The grounding of the sciences in the experience of the 
essential region of their subject matter. 

(2) The essence of truth as the letting be of what is, as it is. 

(3) Preservation of the tradition that has handed down to us 
the beginning of our Western way of knowing in the Greek world. 
(Compare my two hour lecture course of the summer semester 
1932: The Beginning of Western Philosophy.) 

(4) In keeping with this, our responsibility as part of the 
Western world.^^ 

^*^I considered translating Wehrdienst as "Defense Service." But 
although Wehr does mean first of all "defense," "Armed Service" is more 
in keeping with the usual meaning of the term. 

^^ AbencUdndische Verantwortung suggests responsibility that the 
AberuUand should assume, but also responsibility for the fate of the 
AbencUand. "Western world," of course, fails to capture the aura of 
Abendland, which means the land of evening, of the setting sun: the 

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All this implies the decisive rejection of the idea of that "political 
science" proclaimed by National Socialism as a cruder version of 
Nietzsche's understanding of the essence of truth and knowledge. 
But beyond this, the Rector al Address states clearly the rejection 
of this idea of "political science." 

The attitude that governs its reflection and questioning is 
oriented towards "battle." But what does "battle" mean in the 
address? If what is essential in this reflection returns to the 
Greek eTnarrjiir], and that is to say, to aXrjOeia, one has a right to 
conjecture that "battle," too, is understood here in not just any 
way. "Battle" is thought in the sense of Heraclitus, fragment 53. 
But to understand this often cited and equally often misunderstood 
saying, two points first have to be heeded, as I mentioned often 
enough in my lectures and seminars: 

(1) The word iroXeixoSy with which the fragment begins, does 
not mean "war," but what is meant by the word epts, which 
Heraclitus uses in the same sense. But that means "strife" — 
strife, however, understood not as dispute and squabbling and 
mere disagreement, and certainly not as use of force and beating 
down the opponent — but as confrontation that sets those who 
confront one another apart,^^ so that in such setting-apart the 
essential being of those who thus confront one another exposes 
itself, one to the other, and thus shows itself and comes to 
appearance, and that is to say, thinking appearance in a Greek 
manner: enters into what is unconcealed and true. Because battle 
is reciprocal recognition that exposes itself to what is essential, 
the address, which orients this questioning and meditating towards 
"battle," keeps speaking of "being-exposed" {"AusgesetztheiV), 
That what is said here lies in the direction of the Heraclitean 
saying is shown with the greatest clarity by that saying itself. 
One only has to heed a second point. 

(2) Not only should we not think TroXe/ios as war and, further- 
more, appeal to the supposedly Heraclitean proposition "War is 
the father of all things" to proclaim war and battle as the highest 

^^ Heidegger's translation of the Heraclitus fragment offers a key to 
his use of the difficult-to-translate Atiseinandersetzungy which means 
"confrontation," but a confrontation that is a setting apart that lets 
those who are thus set apart reveal themselves. By hyphenating a 
commonly used word (Aus-einander-setzung) Heidegger lets its roots 
speak more strongly. 

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principle of all being and thus to offer a philosophical justification 
of the warlike. 

First of all and at the same time we have to note that — cited 
in the usual manner — the saying of Heraclitus falsifies everything, 
because the saying in its entirety is thus suppressed and with it 
what is essential. The entire saying says: 

"Setting-apart is indeed the sowing of all, but also (and above 
all) it is of all what is highest — what preserves — and this because 
it lets the ones show themselves as gods, the others, however, as 
humans, because it lets the ones step into the open as bondsmen, 
the others as free beings." 

The essence of ToXe/xos lies in the buKvvvaiy to show, and in 
TToteli/, to produce, as the Greeks say, to make-it-stand-out in open 
view. This is the sense of "battle" thought philosophically, and 
what is said in the address is only thought philosophically. 

Such reflection on the realm to which science belongs by its 
essence, reflection that also confronts that essence, must take 
place in every science if that "science" is not to be without 
knowing.^^ From out of such reflection on the totality of the 
sciences, the university carries itself, by its own strength, unto its 
essential ground, a ground accessible only to the knowing that it 
cultivates. Its essence can therefore not be determined from some 
other place, from the standpoint of "politics" or of some other 
established goals. 

In keeping with this fundamental conception and attitude the 
address bears the title: "The Self- Assertion of the German Uni- 
versity." Only a very few understood clearly what this title alone, 
taken by itself, meant in the year 1933, because only a few of 
those whom it concerned took the trouble to think through what 
is said, to do so clearly and without mystification, cutting through 
idle talk. 

To be sure, another response is possible. One can excuse 
oneself from reflection and hold onto the seemingly obvious thought 
that here, a short time after National Socialism had seized power, 
a newly elected rector gives an address on the university, an 

^^ ". . . sich auseinandersetzende Besinnung auf den Wesensbereich 
muss sich in jeder Wissenschaft voUziehen, sonst bleibt sie *Wissenschaft' 
ohne Wissen." The translation fails to preserve the link between 
Wissenschaft (science) and Wissen (knowing), important in both the 
Rectoral Address and in these retrospective remarks. 

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address that "represents'' "National Socialism" and that is to say 
proclaims the idea of "the political character of science/' which, 
crudely thought, means: "True is what is good for the people." 
From this one concludes, and indeed rightly, that this betrays the 
essence of the German university in its very core and actively 
contributes to its destruction; for this reason the title should 
rather be: "The Self-Decapitation of the German University."^^ 
One can proceed in this manner, if one is sufficiently ignorant and 
incapable of reflection, if one is lazy enough and ready to seek 
refuge in idle talk, if one only musters a sufficient degree of 

One can proceed in so irresponsible a manner when interpreting 
the address; but then one has no right to present oneself as 
someone who knows himself responsible for the spirit and the 
welfare of the German university. For to think so superficially 
and to chatter so superficially into the day may be in keeping with 
political methods, but contradicts the innermost spirit of thinking 
that remains open to the matter to be thought, and just that 
spirit one pretended to have to save. 

The address was not understood by those whom it concerned; 
neither was its content understood, nor was it understood in this 
respect: that it states what during the time I was in office gave 
me the guiding thread for distinguishing what was essential from 
what was less essential and only external. 

To be sure, the address and with it my attitude were grasped 
even less by the party and the relevant agencies, yet it was 
"understood" in as much as one sensed immediately the opposition. 
Minister Wacker^^ gave me his "opinion" of the address he had 
just heard on the very same day, after the official banquet in the 

(1) That this was a kind of "private National Socialism," 
which circumvented the perspectives of the party program. 

(2) Most importantly, that the whole had not been based on 
the concept of race. 

(3) That he could not accept the rejection of the idea of 
"political science," even if he would be willing to admit that as 
yet this idea had not been given a sufficient foundation. 

^^ The translation fails to preserve the word play that links Selbsten- 
thauptung and Selbstbehauptung. 

^^ Otto Wacker, Staatsminister fur Unterricht und Kultus in Baden. 

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The opinion of the Minister mattered in as much as it was 
immediately communicated to friends in the party, to Scheel, then 
Leader of the Students of the District/^ to Dr. Stein, lecturer in 
medicine, and to Krieck in Frankfurt.^'^ These three, by the way, 
dominated, from the very beginning, the Ministry of Education in 
Karlsruhe. Fehrle, the Ministerial Counsellor responsible for the 
universities, while harmless and good-natured, was completely in 
their hand.^^ 

When I visited the Ministry shortly after the inaugural 
celebration, I was given to understand the following: (1) that in 
the future the presence of the archbishop at celebrations of this 
sort was no longer wanted; (2) that the speech I gave at the 
banquet that followed the inaugural celebration was inappropriate 
in that I had unnecessarily singled out colleague Sauer of the 
theological faculty and emphasized what I owed him for my own 
scholarly education. 

That such issues were raised in the Ministry at all character- 
ized not only the Minister's own standpoint, but it demonstrated 
that one was not at all willing to consider what I, disregarding all 
infighting and disagreement, was seeking to accomplish for the 
sake of the inner renewal of the university. 

By then I had already been in office for a few weeks. My first 
official action, on the second day of my rectorate, was to prohibit 
the posting of the "Jew Notice" in any rooms that belonged to the 
university. The notice had already been posted in all German 
universities. I explained to the Student Leader that as long as I 
was rector, this notice would find no place in this university. 
Thereupon he and his two companions left with the comment that 
they would report this prohibition to the Reich Student Leadership. 

^^ Gaustudentenfuhrer Gustav Adolf Scheel had made a name for 
himself as student leader at the University of Heidelberg. As Heidegger's 
remarks suggest, he soon rose to more important positions, becoming 
leader of the students of the district {Gau) of Baden, and finally of all 
the students in the Reich. 

^'^Long a committed National Socialist, Ernst Krieck (1882-1947) 
was made a full professor in Frankfurt in 1933, at the University of 
Heidelberg in 1934. A leading ideologue, Krieck protested in his journal 
Volk im Werden against the non-German character of Heidegger's 
thinking, which, he wrote, derived from Thomas Aquinas and Husserl, 
and accused Heidegger of writing "remarkably poor German, because he 
is incapable of thinking in German." 

^^ Ministerialrat Eugen Fehrle, classicist and folklorist, since 1934 
professor in Heidelberg. 

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About eight days later I received a telephone call from a Dr. 
Baumann, an SA Group Leader, speaking on behalf of the SA 
University Office of the SA leadership. He demanded that the 
"Jew Notice" be posted. Were I to refuse, I should count on my 
removal from office, or even with the closing of the university. I 
stuck to my refusal. Minister Wacker declared that he could not 
do anything opposing the SA, which then played a role that was 
later taken over by the SS. 

The just named events were merely the first sign of a state 
of affairs that in the course of my year as rector became ever 
more apparent: the most diverse political power constellations and 
interest groups intervened in the university with their claims and 
demands; the Ministry played often a minor role and beyond that 
was busy securing a certain autonomy against Berlin. Struggles 
for power went on everywhere; those who participated in these 
struggles took an interest in the university only to the extent 
that, as an institution, as the body of students and teachers, it 
entered into the power equation. Furthermore, the professional 
associations of doctors, judges, and teachers announced their 
political claims and demanded the elimination of professors they 
found troublesome and suspect. 

This atmosphere of confusion, which dominated everything, 
offered no possibility to cultivate or even to acquaint others with 
those efforts that were my sole concern and that had moved me 
to assume the office: reflection on the ethos that should govern the 
pursuit of knowledge and on the essence of teaching. The summer 
semester went by and was wasted with discussion of personnel 
and institutional questions. 

The only productive thing, although productive only in a 
negative sense, was that I was able to prevent injustices and 
damage to the university and to colleagues in the "Clean Up 
Drive,"^^ which often threatened to exceed its goals and limits. 

This merely preventive work did not call itself to public 
attention, nor was it necessary that colleagues should learn of it. 
Respected and meritorious colleagues of the faculties of law, 
medicine, and natural science would be surprised if they heard 
what then had been planned for them. 

During my first weeks in office, it was called to my attention 
that the Minister thought it important that rectors belong to the 

19 u 

'Sdvberungsaktion. ' 

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party. One day Dr. Kerber, then the County Leader, the Deputy 
County Leader, and a third member of the County Leadership 
appeared in my office to invite me to join the party. Only in the 
interest of the university, which did not figure in the play of 
political forces, did I, who had never belonged to a political party, 
accept the invitation, but this, too, only on the expressly acknowl- 
edged condition that I would never take on a party office or engage 
in any party activity, especially not in my capacity as rector. I 
kept to this condition, which was indeed not very difficult, for 
since my resignation from the rectorate in the spring of 1934 (see 
below) I was considered politically unreliable and was watched 
more and more with each passing year. 

My entry into the party remained only a matter of form in so 
far as the party leadership did not have the slightest intention of 
involving me in any deliberations concerning questions that per- 
tained to the university, culture, and education. During the entire 
time of my rectorate I did not take part in any deliberation or in 
discussions, let alone in the decision-making of the party leadership 
and of the different party organs. The university remained 
suspect, but at the same time one wanted to use it for purposes of 
cultural propaganda. 

With every passing day I found myself ever more occupied 
with matters that, given my real concern, I had to consider 
unimportant. Not only was I uninterested in the routine of taking 
care of such empty official business, but at the same time I was 
also inexperienced, since up to this point I had refused every 
academic office and was thus a novice. The unfortunate circum- 
stance that the head of the Secretariate had also been in office for 
only a short time and was similarly inexperienced in university 
affairs made matters worse. Thus much happened that was 
inadequate, mistaken, and careless. This, it seemed, totally occu- 
pied my colleagues. The Rectoral Address had been spoken into 
the wind and was forgotten the day after the inaugural celebration. 
While I was rector not one of my colleagues approached me to 
discuss the address in any way. They moved, as they had for 
decades, in the well-trodden paths of faculty politics. 

I could have borne all this confusion and the predominance of 
what was inessential, had it not been for two dangers to the 
university that announced themselves ever more distinctly in the 
course of the summer semester of 1933. 

On the occasion of a lecture I gave at the University of 

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Heidelberg on the essence of science, I learned from Dr. Stein and 
from Scheel of plans to replace the present occupants of several 
chairs in Freiburg. The University was to be laced with reliable 
party members; this was to make it possible to appoint party 
members, first of all to the deanships. There was an insistence 
that what mattered, at least for the time being, in making such 
appointments, was not so much the significance of an individual's 
scholarship or his teaching ability as his political reliability and 
activistic decisiveness. These remarks and plans showed once 
more that the influence of Krieck was spreading from Frankfurt 
and growing stronger in Heidelberg and Karlsruhe. In Karlsruhe 
I was given to understand that to leave the present deans in their 
offices was unacceptable. The faculties needed a National Socialist 
leadership. I thus faced the task of acting in a way that would 
forestall this threat to the real essence of the university. 

The second danger threatened from without, as became ap- 
parent at the conference of rectors held in the summer semester 
in Erfurt. It consisted in efforts to let the entire teaching activity 
of the faculties be determined by the medical, legal, and teaching 
professions and by their demands and needs, efforts that would 
split up the university, once and for all, into professional schools. 
Not only the inner unity of the university was thus threatened, 
but also the basic mode of academic training, that is to say, that 
which I was trying to save by means of a renewal and which alone 
had led me to assume the rectorate. 

I tried to meet the two dangers that were threatening the 
university from Heidelberg and from the tendency towards profes- 
sional schools, with the proposal of a change in the university's 
constitution. It was to make it possible to make decanal appoint- 
ments in such a way that the essence of the faculties and the 
unity of the university could be saved. The motive for this 
constitutional change was not at all revolutionary fervor eager for 
innovation, but insight into the just named dangers, which, in 
view of the distribution and nature of the political forces, was not 
all merely imagined. 

Within the university, where one stared ever more onesidedly 
at what had been, this constitutional change was considered only 
from an institutional and a legalistic point of view; similarly, new 
decanal appointments were judged only from the point of view of 
personal favor or slight. 

For the winter semester 1933/34 I appointed as deans col- 

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leagues who, not only in my personal opinion, but also in the 
general judgment of the scholarly world, had a name in their field 
and who, at the same time, assured that, in his own way, each 
would place the spirit of science at the center of his work with 
the faculty. Not one of these deans was a member of the party. 
The influence of party functionaries had been eliminated. There 
was hope that in the faculties a tradition of the scientific spirit 
might be preserved and given new life. 

But this is not what happened. All hopes were dashed. Every 
effort on behalf of what really mattered was in vain. 

The "Todtnauberg Camp" became a strange omen for the 
winter semester 1933/34. That camp was to prepare teachers and 
students for the real work of the semester and to clarify what I 
took to be the essence of science and of scientific work and, at the 
same time, to present it for consideration and discussion. 

The selection of the participants in the camp was made 
without regard for party membership or National Socialist en- 
gagement. After the plan for the camp had become known in 
Karlsruhe, an insistent request soon arrived from Heidelberg, that 
one also be allowed to send some participants; in the same vein 
Heidelberg communicated with Kiel. 

With a lecture about university and science I attempted to 
clarify the core section of the Rectoral Address and, with reference 
to the above-named dangers, to present the task of the university 
more forcefully. Productive conversations in the separate groups 
were the immediate result, conversations about knowledge and 
faith, faith and Weltanschauung. On the morning of the second 
day District Student Leader Scheel and Dr. Stein appeared sud- 
denly, unannounced and by car, and conversed eagerly with the 
Heidelberg participants in the camp. Their "function" gradually 
became apparent. Dr. Stein asked to be permitted to give an 
address. He spoke on race and the principle of race. The 
participants in the camp took note of the address, but did not 
discuss it further. The Heidelberg group had the task of sabotaging 
the camp. But what really mattered was not the camp, but the 
university in Freiburg, whose faculties were not to be led by party 
members. Unpleasant occurrences, some of them painful, followed. 
I had to swallow them, however, if I did not want to let the entire 
winter semester be wrecked even before it had begun. Perhaps it 
would have been more correct to have resigned from office already 
at this time. But I had not yet counted with what soon became 

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clear. That was the increasing opposition with which I met not 
only from the minister and the Heidelberg group that controlled 
him, but also from my colleagues. 

Although formally the minister agreed with the new decanal 
appointments, he yet thought it strange, not only that no party 
members occupied these positions, but even more that I had dared 
to appoint as dean of the faculty of medicine just the man whom 
half a year earlier the minister could not support as rector and 
had forced out of office. Furthermore the ministry expressed ever 
more clearly the desire that the idea of "political science" be taken 
far more seriously at the University of Freiburg than had so far 

Striking under these circumstances was the fact that in the 
course of the winter semester suggestions from members of the 
faculty of medicine as well as from members of the faculty of law 
reached me repeatedly, urging me to make new decanal appoint- 
ments and replace the colleagues von Mollendorf and Wolf.^ I 
attributed such wishes to infighting and rivalry within the two 
faculties and did not give them much further thought. Until, late 
in the winter, towards the end of the semester 1933/34, I was 
asked to Karlsruhe, where Fehrle, the Ministerial Counsellor, 
informed me in the presence of District Student Leader Scheel, 
that it was the minister's wish that I relieve these deans, von 
Mollendorf and Wolf, of their posts. 

I declared immediately that I would do so under no circum- 
stance and that I could not justify such a restaffing either personally 
or objectively. If the minister were to insist on his desire, I would 
have no alternative, but to resign from office under protest against 
this imposition. Mr. Fehrle then told me that as far as colleague 
Wolf was concerned, the faculty of law, too, wanted a different 
decanal appointment. Thereupon I declared that I was resigning 
from office and asked for a meeting with the minister. While I 
made this declaration, a grin passed over the face of District 
Student Leader Scheel. In this way one had gotten what one 
wanted. But what had become unambiguously clear was that 
circles of the university that were outraged by anything that 
looked like National Socialism did not hesitate to conspire with 

^Erik Wolf, an authority on legal history, with special emphasis 
on the Greeks. See Griechisches RechtsdenkeUy 4 vols. (Frankfurt: Klos- 
termann, 1950-70). 

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the ministry and with the group that determined it to push me 
out of office. 

In my meeting with the minister, who immediately accepted 
my resignation, it became clear that a rift separated the National 
Socialist conception of university and science from my own, which 
could not be bridged. The minister declared that he did not want 
this opposition, which presumably rested on the incompatibility 
of my philosophy with the National Socialist Weltanschauung, to 
reach the public as a conflict between the University of Freiburg 
and the ministry. I responded that I could have no interest in 
creating such an impression, since the university was agreeing 
with the ministry and I did not care to have a conflict bring me 
notoriety. The minister replied that, after I had resigned the 
rectorate without attracting further attention, I would be free to 
act as I thought necessary. 

And I did act in that I refused to participate in the handing 
over of the rectorate as the departing rector and to give my report, 
as had been the tradition. And in the university one understood 
this refusal and, of course, one did not call on me, as the departing 
rector, and ask me to join in further deliberations, as has been 
the custom, before and since. Nor did I expect anything of 
the sort. 

Beginning in April 1934, I lived outside the university in as 
much as I paid no attention to "what went on," but tried to do 
only what was absolutely necessary to meet my teaching duties to 
the best of my ability. But in the following years teaching, too, 
became more a conversation of essential thinking with itself. 
Perhaps, here and there, it struck and awakened human beings, 
but it did not shape itself into a developing structure of a definite 
conduct, which in turn might have given rise to something pri- 

Unimportant as it is in itself, the case of the rectorate 
1933/34 would seem to be a sign of the metaphysical state of the 
essence of science, a science that can no longer be influenced by 
attempts at its renewal, nor delayed in its essential transformation 
into pure technology .^^ This I came to recognize only in the 

^^ 'Technology' does not quite capture the meaning of Techniky which 
also means a particular technique. Wissenschaft transformed into reine 
Technik suggests science that no longer questions its method and is 
dominated by it, science that no longer thinks. 

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following years (see "The Foundation of the Modern World View 
Through Metaphysics'').^ The rectorate was an attempt to see in 
the "movement" that had come to power, beyond all its failings 
and crudities, something that reached much farther and that 
might some day bring about a gathering of what is German unto 
the historical essence of the West. In no way shall it be denied 
that at the time I believed in such possibilities and for this reason 
renounced the thinker's most proper vocation in order to help 
realize them in an official capacity. In no way shall what was 
caused by my own inadequacy in office be attenuated. But such 
perspectives don't allow one to see what is essential and moved 
me to assume the rectorate. The different evaluations of this 
rectorate that place it against the horizon of academic business 
as usual may be correct in their way and justified; but they never 
hit on what is essential. And it is even less possible today to 
open the horizon of what here is essential to deluded eyes. 

What is essential is that we are caught up in the consummation 
of nihilism, that God is "dead," and every time-space for the 
godhead covered up. The surmounting of nihilism nevertheless 
announces itself in German poetic thinking and singing.^ Of this 
poetry, however, the Germans still have had the least understand- 
ing, because they are concerned to adapt to the measures of the 
nihilism that surrounds them and thus to misunderstand the 
essence of a historical self-affirmation. 


Let the following be told for the benefit of those, and only of 
those, who take pleasure in staring at what in their judgment 
were the mistakes of my rectorate. Taken by itself, it is as 
unimportant as the barren rooting in past attempts and measures 
taken, which in the context of the entire movement of the planetary 

^The lecture was given on June 9, 1938 and published under the 
title "Die Zeit des Weltbildes," in Holzwegey now vol. 5 of the Gesam- 
taiisgabe. Translated as "The Age of the World View," by Marjorie 
Grene, in Boundary 2, vol. 4, 1976; also "The Age of the World Picture," 
by William Lovitt in The Question of Technology. 

^ ". . . im dichtenden Denken und Singen des Deutschen." See 
Holderlins Hymnen ''Germanien'' und ''Der Rhein/'s, lecture course given 
in the winter semester 1934/35, now available as Gesamtausgabey vol. 39 
(Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1980). 

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will to power are so insignificant that they may not even be 
called tiny. 

I had no illusions about the possible consequences of my 
resignation from office in the spring of 1934; after June 30 of the 
same year, these consequences became completely clear .^ Anyone 
who after that still assumed an administrative office in the 
university was in a position to know beyond the shadow of a 
doubt, with whom he was bargaining. 

How my rector ate was then judged by the party and by the 
ministry, by the body of teachers and by the student body, is put 
down in the declaration that appeared in the press when my 
successor assumed office. According to this statement, only this 
successor could be considered the first National Socialist rector of 
the University of Freiburg, a man who, himself a veteran, assured 
a fighting-soldierly spirit and its spread at the university. 

Suspicions now began to be voiced against me, which at times 
degenerated into public insult. In proof, it is enough to point to 
the annual volumes of Ernst Krieck's journal Volk im Werden, 
which was first published at that time. Hardly an issue of the 
journal appeared, in which open or seemingly unaware polemics 
did not drag down my philosophy. The fact that, until this day, I 
never took note of such doings and furthermore never allowed 
myself to be drawn into honoring them with a reply, only further 
enraged persons so ill endowed that I had never attacked them. 
In a somewhat different manner Alfred Baumler^ was busy raising 
the same suspicions in his education journal, which he published 
on behalf of Rosenberg's Office. The Hitler Youth's journal, Wille 
und Macht, led the charge. My Rectoral Address, which in the 
meantime had been published, became a popular target of polemics 
in the Camps for Teachers. (Verified by H. G. Gadamer, Gerh. 
Kriiger, W. Brocker.)^^ 

^The day of the bloody purge of Ernst Roehm and the S. A. 
leadership, along with other suspected enemies of the regime. 

^Alfred Baumler, perhaps the most prominent philosopher to 
identify with the National Socialist cause. Best known for works on 
Nietzsche and Kant, Baumler had become professor of pedagogy and 
philosophy at the Technical University of Dresden in 1929, professor of 
political pedagogy in Berlin in 1933, where he also became head of the 
"Office for Science,'' under the auspices of Alfred Rosenberg, whom 
Hitler had put in charge of the ideological training of the party. 

^^Hans Georg Gadamer was Heidegger's student in Marburg; see 
Philosophische Lehrjahre (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1977). So was Ger- 

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Even the lectures I gave, rarely enough after 1934 and in 
purely academic circles, were, each time, vilified in the local party 
newspaper in a disgusting manner and, each time, the university 
leadership pulled itself together only with difficulty to take steps 
against such doings. The following lectures were given: 1935, "The 
Origin of the Work of Art";^ 1938, "The Foundation of the Modern 
World View Through Metaphysics"; 1941, "Holderlin's Feast-Day 
Hymn";^ 1943, "Holderlin Memorial Celebration."^^ 

Gradually such hounding, which extended to my class lectures, 
had the desired success. In the summer semester 1937 a Dr. 
Hancke from Berlin appeared in a seminar; very gifted and 
interested, he worked with me. Soon he confessed that he could 
no longer conceal from me that he was working for Dr. Scheel, 
who was then the head of the South-West Section of the Security 
Service. Dr. Scheel had called to his attention that my rectorate 
had been the real reason for the r^ot^-National-Socialist appearance 
and the lukewarm attitude of the University of Freiburg. I do 
not want to count this a merit. I mention it only to suggest that 
the opposition that had begun in 1933 had continued and grown 
more vigorous. 

The same Dr. Hancke also told me that in the Security Service 
one was of the opinion that I was collaborating with the Jesuits. 
It was indeed true that up to the very end members of Catholic 
orders (especially Jesuits and Franciscans from the Freiburg 
House) attended my lectures and seminars. Just like other stu- 
dents, these gentlemen had the possibility of working with me 
and of benefitting from participation in my seminars. For a 
number of semesters the Jesuit Fathers Prof. Lotz, Rahner, 
Huidobro were members of my advanced seminar; they were often 
in our house. One only has to read their writings to recognize 

hard Kriiger; Walter Brocker, another Heidegger student, became his 
assistant after Brock's departure. 

^ "Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes," Holzwege; translated by Albert 
Hofstadter in Poetry, Langtcage, Ttvought (New York: Harper and Row, 
1971), reprinted in Basic Writings, 

^ "Wie wenn am Feiertage . . .," Erlduterungen zu Holderlins Dick- 
tungy Gesamtausgabe, vol. 4 (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1981). 

^ "Heimkunft/An die Verwandten," Erlduterungen zu Holderlins 
Dichtung; translated as "Remembrance of the Poet," by Douglas Scott 
in Existence and Being. 

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the influence of my thinking; this influence, furthermore, is not 

Later, too, the Gestapo's inquiries concerned only Catholic 
members of my seminar— Father Schuhmacher, Dr. Guggenberger, 
Dr. Bollinger (in connection with the student action Scholl in 
Munich; one was looking for one source of that action in Freiburg 
and in my lectures.)^^ 

Even before that time, right after my resignation from office, 
there were complaints that I allowed former students (who were 
not Aryans) to attend my lectures. 

Furthermore, it is well known that my three most capable 
students (Gadamer, G. Kruger, and Brocker), all three well above 
the average of the rising generation in philosophy, were kept back 
for many years because they were Heidegger students. They were 
appointed to professorships only when it had become impossible 
not to acknowledge their qualifications and the scandal apparent. 

Since 1938 it was forbidden to mention my name in newspapers 
and journals; similarly it was forbidden to review my writings, in 
so far as these could still appear in new editions. Finally new 
editions of Being and Time and the Kant book were not allowed 
to appear, even though the publisher had already procured the 
necessary paper. 

Despite this complete silence at home, one tried to use my 
name abroad for cultural propaganda purposes and to get me to 
give lectures. I turned down all such lecture trips to Spain, 
Portugal, Italy, Hungary, and Rumania; I also never participated 
in the lectures that the faculty held for the armed forces in 

The following facts may speak for the way in which one 
judged and tried to eliminate my philosophical work: 

^ See Johannes Lotz, Martin Heidegger und Thomas von Aquin: 
Menschy Zeit, und Sein (Pfullingen: Neske, 1975) and Karl Rahner, Geist 
und Welt; zur Metaphysik der endlichen Erkenntnis bei Thomas von Aquin 
(Innsbruck: Rauch, 1939). 

^^ Early in 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl led student opposition to 
the Nazis at the University of Munich, which became the scene of the 
first anti-Nazi demonstrations at any German university. The "White 
Rose Letters" carried their call for resistance to other universities. The 
reaction was swift: Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed, as was their 
friend and adviser, the philosopher Kurt Huber. 

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(1) At the International Congress of Philosophy in Prague 
1935 I neither belonged to the German delegation, nor was I even 
invited to participate. 

(2) In the same manner I was to be excluded from the 
Descartes Congress in Paris, 1937. In Paris this was thought so 
strange that Professor Brehier of the Sorbonne asked me, on 
behalf of the executive committee, why I did not belong to the 
German delegation; the Congress wanted to invite me on its own 
to give a lecture. I replied that they should inquire in Berlin at 
the Reich Ministry of Education concerning this matter. Some 
time later an invitation reached me from Berlin, asking me to join 
the delegation as a supplemental member. The whole matter was 
handled in a way that made it impossible for me to go to Paris 
with the German delegation. 

During the war preparations were made for the publication 
of accounts of the humanities in Germany. Nicolai Hartmann^^ 
was in charge of the section "Systematic Philosophy." A three 
day conference was held in Berlin to plan this undertaking. 
Except for Jaspers and myself, all professors of philosophy were 
invited. One could not use us because in connection with this 
publication an attack on "existential philosophy'' was being 
planned, which later was indeed carried out.^ 

In this case, too, as already during the rectorate, and notwith- 
standing the oppositions that divided them, my opponents dem- 
onstrated a strange willingness to ally themselves against every- 
thing by which they felt spiritually threatened and put into 

But these events, too, are only a fleeting appearance on waves 
of a movement of our history, of whose dimensions the Germans 
have as yet no inkling, even now that catastrophe has en- 
gulfed them. 

^^ Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) insisted on the primacy of ontology. 
In this connection he attacked Heidegger's fundamental ontology for its 

^ See Systematische Philosophie, ed. Nicolai Hartmann (Stuttgart 
und Berlin: Kohlhammer, 1942) with contributions by Arnold Gehlen, 
Erich Rothacker, Nicolai Hartmann, O. F. Bollnow (who wrote the essay 
on existential philosophy), Hermann Wein, and Heinz Heimsoeth. 

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